Nicknamed the “female ginseng”, Angelica gigas has a long history in traditional Korean medicine. Traditionally used for gynecological health, Angelica gigas has the potential to combat inflammation and cancer and protect the brain.
What is Angelica gigas?
Angelica gigas (full name: Angelica gigas Nakai) is also referred to as Korean Angelica, giant Angelica, and cham-dang-gui (참당귀). It is mainly found in Korea, with two other closely-related Angelica species found in Japan and China .
The Chinese species is Angelica sinensis, also referred to as dong quai or danggui. There are differences in chemical composition and medical properties between Angelica gigas and Angelica sinensis. The Chinese Angelica sinensis is typically used in promoting blood circulation, while the Korean Angelica gigas is typically used for menstrual issues and overall gynecological health .
The major chemical components of Angelica are the molecules decursin and decursinol angelate. These two molecules are rapidly converted to a third molecule called decursinol in the liver. This suggests that decursinol could be the actual active component leading to the observed beneficial effects [4, 5, 3].
Other compounds in Angelica include:
- Caffeic acid
Mechanisms of Action
- Decursin decreases acetylcholinesterase, an enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine .
- Nodakenin also decreases acetylcholinesterase [1, 6].
- Angelan increases the production of the cytokines IL-2, IL-4, IL-6, and IFN-γ .
- Angelan activates B cells and causes them to increase antibody production .
- Angelan causes immune cells to mature through TLR4 signaling pathways .
- Caffeic acid activates the estrogen receptor hER-β .
Health Benefits of Angelica
1) Improves Symptoms of Menopause
Angelica was traditionally used to treat irregular menstrual flow and menopausal symptoms .
The hot water extract of Angelica has high estrogenic activity .
Angelica reversed the symptoms of low estrogen levels in menopausal rats. Treatment normalized the hormones estrogen and progesterone .
EstroG-100 is an herbal formula that contains Angelica and two other herbs. A study of 64 pre-, peri-, and post-menopausal women found that EstroG-100 improved menopausal symptoms without serious side effects .
2) May Reduce Inflammation
Angelica reduced inflammation in mice by blocking the production of nitric oxide, TNF-alpha, and IL-6 .
The herbal formula APR (Angelica gigas, Panax ginseng, and Rhus vernicflua) is used to suppress inflammation. In inflamed mouse macrophages (immune cells that engulf foreign particles), APR reduced oxidative stress and improved mitochondrial function .
3) May Protect the Brain
Angelica helps protect the brain. Angelica may be effective in treating brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, or other disorders caused by neuron death .
ESP-102 is a formula that contains Angelica root, Saururus chinensis fruit, and Schisandra chinensis fruit in an 8:1:1 ratio. ESP-102 protected rat brain cells from glutamate toxicity. ESP-102 also caused recovery of memory impairment .
The formulas LMK02 (Angelica and 7 other herbs/mushrooms) and LMK03 (Angelica and the Poria Cocos mushroom) protected rat hippocampal cells against neuron damage and inhibited neurotoxicity and oxidative stress in human neuroblastoma cells. LMK02 and LMK03 also reduce Alzheimer’s-like symptoms in a mouse model for Alzheimer’s disease [1, 20].
Angelica also prevented brain damage and helped counter the onset of symptoms of pre-Alzheimer’s disease in mice .
Treatment of mice with decursin reduced memory loss and protected brain cells from oxidative stress. Decursinol reduced memory loss in mice and protected brain cells from glutamate toxicity [R, R].
4) May Improve Cognitive Performance
Treatment with BZYQT led to a greater cognitive performance in mice .
A study measuring brain electrical activity in 20 volunteers found that smelling Angelica essential oil increased the level of brain waves related to language learning ability .
5) Has Anti-Cancer Properties
Angelica prevented tumor growth in mice and increased their lifespan .
In rodent studies, decursin, decursinol angelate, and decursinol effectively treat cancers of the:
- Soft tissue and bones (sarcoma)
- Blood (myeloma, leukemia)
Decursin and decursinol angelate also demonstrate anti-androgen receptor activity by reducing the number of androgen receptors. Androgen receptors are critical to the development of prostate cancer, so the anti-androgen receptor activity of decursin and decursinol angelate indicates that they may be effective in treating prostate cancer [4, 26].
Decursinol was also able to stop tumor growth in mice with lung cancer .
6) May Prevent Weight Gain
Decursin prevents insulin from causing fat cells to grow, drastically reducing fat accumulation and weight gain in mice. Mice treated with decursin had reduced levels of leptin, resistin, IL-6, and MCP-1 (which were increased by a high-fat diet) .
7) May Prevent Bone Loss
Using Angelica in rats with menopause prevented a decrease in the level of BMD, an indicator of osteoporosis in postmenopausal women. Additionally, Angelica increased bone stiffness and strength compared to controls. It also prevented bone loss in treated rats’ tibias .
8) May Reduce Nicotine Addiction
Smelling Angelica essential oils reduced sensitivity to nicotine in nicotine-addicted mice by blocking the release of dopamine in response to injected nicotine. This indicates that Angelica could be used to treat nicotine addiction .
9) May Reduce Pain
10) May Prevent Skin Aging
Collagen is an abundant protein found in the skin and levels diminishes with age.
Angelica increased collagen synthesis in human connective tissue cells .
Side Effects and Contraindications
Alcohol extracts of aerial parts (flower, leaf, and stem of Angelica stimulated the activity of alcohol dehydrogenase and aldehyde dehydrogenase, enzymes involved in drug and alcohol processing. This could increase the rate at which the body processes alcohol and other drugs and necessitates caution in using Angelica and consuming alcohol simultaneously .
Angelica may reduce the blood’s ability to clot. Therefore, it should not be used in conjunction with blood-thinning drugs such as warfarin and Xarelto without first consulting a physician .
Due to a lack of clinical trials, optimal dosage for Angelica extract is not known.
In treating menopausal symptoms, participants took two capsules a day, with each capsule containing 257.05 mg EstroG-100 powder .
For aromatherapy, study participants smelled a small volume (10 uL put onto filter paper) of pure Angelica extract for 1 to 2 minutes .
The majority of users gave positive reviews of an anti-inflammation formula (specifically for joint pain relief) containing Angelica extract, stating that Decursinol-50 (Angelica extract) quickly relieved pain without side effects.
Some users state that Angelica in the extract INM-176 improved their memory.
Most reviews of EstroG-100 (used in the treatment of menopause symptoms) report that the herbal formula relieved hot flashes, mood swings, and night sweats. However, some said that they experienced no effect. The only reported side effect by one user was difficulty falling asleep after taking EstroG-100 at night.